2013 Va. General Assembly Q&A
Members of Henrico's delegation discuss the 2013 session
The Henrico Citizen invited each of Henrico's General Assembly members five questions about the 2013 session. The answers of those who responded by the deadline appear here.
1. What is the most important issue facing the General Assembly this year? Why?
Farrell – With it being the governor’s last year in office, he has presented proposals for major changes in education and transportation. In regards to education, the General Assembly will have to consider, among other issues, the best method of determining teacher compensation to ensure optimal performance in the classroom. We must also decide on the best strategy to assist Virginia school systems that are struggling. When discussing transportation, the General Assembly must address the ever-growing issue of budgetary shortfalls over the past decade for new road construction. The governor has proposed eliminating the gas tax and a 0.8-cent increase in sales tax as a solution, and it will be up to us to decide if this is the best formula going forward to ensure the viability of Virginia’s transportation funding system. Improved education and transportation systems are the pillars of a strong economic future for Virginians.
Loupassi – Education reforms. The governor has proposed a number of reforms for K-12 education, and those are likely to have a great amount of discussion. Additionally, mental health spending and the budget considerations will occupy much of our time.
Massie – The most important issue facing the legislature this year is economic growth and jobs creation. Since 2009, numerous private businesses have invested $10 billion in expanding their existing operations or starting new ones, announced 1,027 economic development projects and created 60, 865 jobs. Our investment in job- creating economic development activities here in Virginia has really paid off. Our unemployment rate in Virginia is 5.5 percent, the lowest in the Southeast and the second lowest east of the Mississippi. The national unemployment rate is 7.9 percent. As we continue to compete with other states and other countries to attract business, we need to stay energized and creative. Our citizens need the jobs and our government services need the revenues.
O'Bannon – The most important issues this year will be the budget and transportation. Both are vitally important to keeping Virginia's economic and job growth going. Transportation problems have cost us rankings nationally, and we need to deal with this problem.
McEachin – The most important issue facing the General Assembly this year is the option for Medicaid expansion. By expanding Medicaid, we will provide working Virginians with health care, create jobs and stop our federal tax dollars from going to other states. Most significantly, we will do this at absolutely no cost to Virginia for the first three years. Even after that, the federal government will always pick up at least 90 percent of the costs. In other words, we can create jobs, help our fellow Virginians and keep our hard-earned dollars in Virginia simply by supporting Medicaid expansion. Expanding Medicaid will insure between 300,000 to over 400,000 Virginians who have no health insurance, create more than 30,000 new jobs and save the state money spent for indigent care.
Stosch – On the budget side, Virginia is one of the largest beneficiaries of federal spending, particularly with the large concentration of military bases and ship building in Hampton Roads and federal workers in northern Virginia. We can deal with adversity; we can deal with good news. It is more difficult to deal with uncertainty which is what we face at this time with potential added budget pressures on our Commonwealth from federal action (or inaction). As examples, the national healthcare plan can add hundreds of millions to state spending at a time in which state funds are stagnant; how and when federal sequestration is resolved could result in significant job losses in Virginia. And, of course, there are many other implications which will impact our economy in Virginia. So, until we understand more of the specifics of impending federal action and how those actions will impact Virginia, our best course is to continue to be frugal, plan carefully and build our rainy day funds.
2. What legislation do you plan to introduce during this year's session?
Farrell – I have always made a point to support legislation that gives local government greater flexibility, and four of my bills this session do just that. House Bill 1331 provides that any county or city and certain towns may establish and maintain a defined contribution retirement plan for its employees instead of any other retirement plans. House Bill 1332 allows a local governing body to request an audit from the Auditor of Public Accounts at any time upon a majority vote. House Bill 1333 allows localities to amend service district boundaries after notice and a public hearing. House Bill 1620 allows a county to adopt an optional form of local government upon the vote of a majority of the members of its governing body.
Loupassi – I have proposed a number of bills that relate to public safety, legal efficiencies and spending. I have introduced legislation to outlaw texting while driving and synthetic drugs. I have introduced legislation to stop the government from charging separate fees for toll transponders. I have introduced a constitutional amendment to control runaway governmental spending.
Massie – My primary legislative focus this year is education. I believe that our K-12 education policies and funding are paving roads to success for our youth. Virginia is ranked the fourth-best state to raise a child in. Virginia, and in particular Henrico County, has wonderful public schools. We also have the finest system of public higher education in the country. During this 2013 session Governor McDonnell and the House Republican Caucus are proposing major education initiatives and reforms including: a 2 percent salary increase for teachers, a strategic compensation program, improving teachers’ continuing contracts, improved reading achievements, a solution for failing schools, major charter school initiatives and many others. I support the governor’s education reform agenda. Last year, my Educational Improvement Scholarship bill passed the General Assembly and became law. It allows for tax credits for donations to approved foundations which award scholarships to economically disadvantaged children to attend a school of their parents' choice. I will again introduce a bill for educational improvement scholarships to improve the practical applications of the scholarship process.
O'Bannon – I'm introducing a constitutional amendment to guarantee secret ballot voting in union elections in Virginia. I'm also introducing a bill to allow citizens to directly contribute to the Virginia 529 College Savings program from their state income tax refund.
McEachin – I have a variety of bills that I will be introducing. Here are three examples. I am going to introduce legislation to prohibit discrimination based on sexual identity in state employment. I also plan to introduce a bill to ensure that citizens who apply for an absentee ballot are able to request confirmation that the ballot was received. Just like voting on Election Day, Virginians should know that their votes have been recorded and will be counted. I am also introducing a bill prohibiting the governor from unilaterally imposing tolls on the interstate highways here in Virginia without General Assembly approval (and I would oppose such tolls).
Stosch – In the case of personal legislation, as the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, I typically do not introduce specific legislation other than the budget and bond bills.
3. Will you support Henrico's request to gain authority to implement a meals tax? Why or why not?
Farrell – Given the results of the 2005 referendum, the citizens of Henrico at that time clearly did not support such an increase. Therefore, I cannot support a measure that will overlook the opinion of the citizens of Henrico as illustrated by the results of that referendum in favor of the opinion of the General Assembly. I am happy to work with county officials to come up with solutions to budgetary shortfalls anticipated with the decline in real estate tax revenue which can be presented to the citizens for their approval.
Loupassi – I believe that we have a process in place for the voters to consider such a tax. Henrico voters rejected the tax a very short while ago. I think if it is to be raised, then the voters need to be asked again directly.
Massie – In the past I have voted across the board to give local elected officials the authority to manage local tax and spending decisions. However, in the case of the current Henrico County meals tax proposal, this issue was voted on, and defeated, by public referendum in 2005. Therefore, I believe that the public’s decision should not be put aside now in favor of local authority. Rather I believe that the county should rely on public input for a meals tax decision. I will work with the county and my constituents to establish that channel of input. Also, I will work with the county to explore other avenues to replace depleted real estate tax revenues of recent years so that the high quality of county services can be upheld.
O'Bannon – Since Henrico recently held a referendum on this which failed, I believe we'll need to engage our constituients on this. Have placed this question on my legislative district survey and will be discussing with people in my district. Henrico is well run and has limited choices for generating revenue, especially with the real estate tax base dipping so much. Residents may feel more comfortable with a meals tax option for consideration.
McEachin – Yes, I will support this legislation. Localities should have the option to make their own decisions.
Stosch – Henrico’s request for authority for a meals tax came about as a result of the county administration reaching a conclusion that current and future Henrico transportation needs cannot be met without adequate revenue from either additional real estate tax assessment or other revenues, such as a meals tax. They expressed a preference for a meals tax. An alternative would be for the state to increase its reimbursement to Henrico for maintaining what would otherwise be a state responsibility. Of all of the counties throughout Virginia, only the counties of Henrico and Arlington currently pay for their own roads. This is a matter we will have to evaluate further before the best informed decisions can be made by the legislators and the County officials to see how Henrico can be treated fairly.
4. Do you believe that Virginia should toughen gun standards, in light of the Connecticut school shooting? If so, how?
Farrell – The tragedy in Newtown, Conn., sadly highlights a growing issue stemming from many concerns. As we await the pending new federal gun regulations in Congress, carefully measured action should be taken at the state level in order to ensure lasting, positive results. I believe that we should engage in a multi-faceted approach and look at all aspects of reasonable and responsible reform, such as mental health and school safety, including school resource officer expansion. For example, Governor McDonnell has proposed $5 million for specific adult and child crisis services and an additional $1 million for children’s mental health services.
Loupassi – I believe the problem is related to mental health. I will carefully consider any bills brought to me, but the devil is always, as they say, in the details.
Massie – This is not an area of public policy expertise for me. However, I do believe that school safety depends on mental health preventative practices as well as safe gun standards that do not offend the U.S. Constitution.
O'Bannon – The governor has convened a work group to deal with this. We had a school massacre at Virginia Tech and have updated our laws regarding mental health. I am not supportive of more gun laws but am very supportive of improving mental health care in the state. I am serving on this commission.
McEachin – I believe in some common sense safety measures while still supporting the Second Amendment. We need universal background checks that ensure that suspected terrorists, dangerous convicted felons and those suffering from mental illness are not able to circumvent our background check law to obtain guns. Unfortunately, now, more than 40 percent of guns are sold without background checks. The vast majority of background checks take less than two minutes. I also support a ban on high capacity magazines. Hunters and citizens using those guns for protection do not need high capacity magazines. These magazines exist simply to create violent mayhem. If the magazine size had been limited, many more victims might have survived in recent mass shootings.
5. Do you support raising the gas tax? Why or why not?
Farrell – New fuel economy standards will increase to 54.5 miles per gallon of gas by 2025, causing the gas tax to become a declining revenue source. That being said, I am willing to listen to all revenue-generating plans that help fund transportation.
Loupassi – The governor has proposed a comprehensive transportation package and we will consider all aspects of that proposal.
Massie – I don’t support raising the gas tax. I believe that sustained revenue growth is best achieved through economic growth. Economic growth is best achieved via lower marginal tax rates, less regulation and litigation. This approach will yield a correlated increase in tax revenues which may then be used to fund core essential services of government, including transportation.
O'Bannon – The gas tax is certainly one option. We will be reviewing a number of proposals, some of which are quite complicated. I could support a proposal to index or raise the gas tax so long as additional revenue from some other sources is also provided.
McEachin – I support a long-term, sustainable solution to the transportation crisis. We need to repair cracks and potholes, fix our old and substandard bridges and renovate our crumbling tunnels. To do this, we must have a steady, dependable revenue source as well as make appropriate cuts and efficiencies in other spending. The gas tax is one possibility to address this problem, but I am open to certain other solutions also. However, I do oppose putting tolls on I-95 as the governor has proposed.
Stosch – Additional legislation regarding public safety, how to deal with traffic congestion and how to best maintain roads throughout Virginia will be important topics for discussion, all of which will require much debate and evaluation before any final decisions can be reached. I, along with my legislative colleagues representing Henrico, am proud of our county and will serve its citizens as faithfully and professionally as we can.
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